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07 May 2009 @ 06:05 pm
Why there is no equivalent of a corset for men: a theory  
(Some thoughts prompted by this blog post)

A question I have often asked, and never gotten a satisfactory answer to, is this: what can I wear to a science fiction convention that would be as sexy as a corset?

Lots of women wear corsets at conventions these days. They make nearly any woman look sexy, whether she's svelte or generously proportioned. But I'm not aware of anything equivalent for men. One answer I've gotten to this question is "a corset, duh." But I've tried male corsets and they don't do anything for me. Fundamentally I believe the problem is that they don't change my shape at all. Another answer is "a tux." I can get into that (and have), but it's not quite the same thing.

I realized the other day that the reason there's no good answer to this question arises from Western society's ideas about gender. A corset is not sexy principally because it emphasizes a woman's secondary sexual characteristics. A corset is sexy because it emphasizes the differences between a woman and a man -- where "man" should be read in the deprecated meaning of "human being." In other words, a corset emphasizes the difference between a "woman" and a "person," or between "mark" and "norm." Thus, there is no equivalent of a corset for men because there are no differences between a man and a person (societally speaking) to emphasize.

Clothing that emphasizes a man's secondary sexual characteristics can still be sexy, and appealing to individuals. But it's not "sexy" in the societally-endorsed way that a corset is.

Note that I am not endorsing this view, I'm just observing it.

Your thoughts?

vee_ecks on May 8th, 2009 01:07 am (UTC)
A merkin on the outside of the pants?
David D. Levinedavidlevine on May 8th, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
(no subject) - vee_ecks on May 8th, 2009 01:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - joshenglish on May 8th, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
tournevis on May 8th, 2009 01:13 am (UTC)
In 17th c. France, men wore corsets. Everyone at the Royal court had a corset. The shape was different, but yeah, a corset.
Steve Green: Kirkstevegreen on May 8th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
In 23rd c. space, many suspected Jim Kirk wore one.
(no subject) - tournevis on May 8th, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC) (Expand)
lauriemannlauriemann on May 8th, 2009 01:16 am (UTC)
Well, my thought is that I would never, ever wear a corset. If I was single, if a guy didn't like the way I look without a corset, tough. Since I'm married, Jim already knows what I look like without a corset, so so what! I would never force him to wear uncomfortable, irrational clothing. Hell, a TIE uncomfortable for him!
David D. Levinedavidlevine on May 8th, 2009 06:21 am (UTC)
I'm not talking about the uncomfortable undergarment but the sexy outer garment seen at conventions.
(no subject) - lauriemann on May 8th, 2009 10:58 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - davidlevine on May 8th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - criada on May 8th, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Steve Green: Cyberstevegreen on May 8th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
Scientifictional codpieces?
Leah Bobetleahbobet on May 8th, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)
Hrm. There could be something to that.

I have a notion it's because it's sort of old-money sexy clothes, with all the history and (therefore) upper-class acceptability attached, it goes over better than a vinyl miniskirt. It's...a connotation thing?

(If I wanted to prove or disprove that, I'd have to go find out when corsets became sexy and not, well, just clothes.)
stillsostrange on May 8th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
And more women--or men--look good in corsets than do in vinyl miniskirts.
(no subject) - leahbobet on May 8th, 2009 02:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
Steve Hutchisonfoomf on May 8th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
I hesitate to point out that there is a thing called a "codpiece" which held exactly the same role as the corset in fashion - and that men also wore and sometimes still wear corsets.

Also, high heels for men were pretty common in past times.

We no longer wear hats or wigs commonly, but those were a high fashion thing, as were the silk patches worn to cover blemishes when the lead based face paint wasn't up to the job.

Men frequently (if they can pull it off) wear leather clothing as a sexy-enhancer which can parallel the use of a corset; women may also do so and even combine the two.

Edit to add sudden thought:
There was a guy on the web selling his attempted return to the world of codpieces, but I don't think he's been successful.
The real issue is that the explicit whalebone style antique corset has become an item of fetishwear because of the bondage aspects, just as fishnet stockings worn with a girdle (reconstructive or not.)
It's really that all these things were underwear, and women had more complicated underwear. Men who have appropriate physiques wearing tight athletic-style tee shirts (ala Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire) are often wearing them as a sexiness-enhancer.

Edited at 2009-05-08 01:39 am (UTC)
Boothby171boothby171 on May 8th, 2009 02:56 am (UTC)
Corsets and codpieces...
People are always assuming I'm wearing a codpiece, and it's getting pretty damn annoying...
Re: Corsets and codpieces... - barbhendee on May 8th, 2009 03:31 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Corsets and codpieces... - boothby171 on May 8th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Corsets and codpieces... - foomf on May 8th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
coppervalecoppervale on May 8th, 2009 01:39 am (UTC)
Well, there's a definite reason why I wear fitted vests at all my appearances...
Eleri Hamiltoneleri on May 8th, 2009 05:19 am (UTC)
mmmm waistcoats.
Kalimackalimac on May 8th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
A tux, or coppervale's fitted vests, makes the (male) wearer look natty, not sexy.

To emphasize the secondary sexual characteristics as a corset does on women, then yes, a codpiece is the equivalent. When GWB was prancing around in his flight suit, the comments on his "package" were fairly similar to those that Hillary Clinton gets whenever she reveals a little cleavage.
Renegade Vagabond: Yes Siamkhaybee on May 8th, 2009 01:58 am (UTC)
I think a nice broad-shouldered suit with a snap brim hat is the height of sexy. There are also many sexy tailcoats out there. I think the cut of a good, old fashioned suit emphesises the male shape as a corset may emphesise the female shape. Hats pull it all together. I am SO in favour of overdressing!
jenwrites on May 8th, 2009 02:56 am (UTC)
One word: utilikilt.

The NewroticGirl: corsetnewroticgirl on May 8th, 2009 04:03 am (UTC)
YES! I'm all for kiltly goodness.
bram452bram452 on May 8th, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
Evolutionary biology boy here. Sorry.

Men respond to women's hip-to-waist ratios. Thus corsets.

Women respond to men's height. So the equivalent would be platform shoes or top hats.
barbhendee on May 8th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)

Oh . . . I think you might be right here. I had not thought of it that way.
(no subject) - davidlevine on May 8th, 2009 06:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scarlettina on May 8th, 2009 06:59 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - davidlevine on May 8th, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - joshenglish on May 8th, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - barbhendee on May 8th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Elizabeth Colemancriada on May 8th, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)
I've often bemoaned the difficulty of finding sexy dress for men. A corset can make a woman anything from classy to slutty--men don't really have an equivalent. Maybe some of the wilder suits and zoot suits like Bruce Taylor and Jeremy Lassen wear. So many things just need to be worn in the right circumstances by the right people. Not everyone can pull off leather pants, but those that do...whoo.
Kilts and utilikilts are good, but honestly, rather than finding the wearers sexy, the kilt just makes me notice him, and admire him for his confidence. I think that's where the answer lies. Anything that's bold enough to show a guy's got balls--of the metaphorical kind--works.
Kate Schaeferkate_schaefer on May 8th, 2009 03:26 am (UTC)
I always recommend Anne Hollander's books, Sex and Suits, which is about the history of men's clothing (mostly), and Seeing Through Clothes, which is about the history of representations of clothing and nudity in art (again, mostly). One of the answers is that all human clothing -- all! all! all! even parkas and spacesuits! -- is about sex, and male sexuality has to do with power while female sexuality has to do with fertility, but then we get into all the ways in which that is an inadequate and incomplete statement.

What you said about mark and norm is certainly not untrue.

See you at Wiscon.
Jae Leslie, aka MaryRead the Pirate Queenmaryread on May 8th, 2009 03:58 am (UTC)
Great books! Particularly the part about the invention of the modern men's suit, just about at Jane Austen's time, that emphasized the classical torso shape (what Ms Bones refers to as the ratio between the clavicle something something and the iliac dealio, must go look up these parts again in Gray's Anatomy). So yeah, tux. Who doesn't look their best in a tux?

I also liked Hollander's observation about the ideal women of Austen's time looking like bolsters, how you can see in the art that women were supposed to be long and tubular and puffy and not bendy in the middle. And their dresses hid pregnancy very usefully. Corsets are only one way to go to illustrate fecundity.
Intelligentrix: Talk nerdyintelligentrix on May 8th, 2009 04:15 am (UTC)
Chaps over tight jeans or nothing at all.... Rowr. Also, the long coat with the tight waist and the wide shoulders. Classic and sooo sexy.

[edit] Just two examples of clothing styles which emphasize two aspects of hyper-masculinity: the tight ass and the wide-shouldered/narrow waisted torso. Of course, that I find these appealing is self-evident.

Edited at 2009-05-08 04:17 am (UTC)
David D. Levinedavidlevine on May 8th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
I've often faunched after a coat like that but I've never found one in my size. I've also wondered if someone as short as I can pull it off (though Harold Gross has one his wife made, which looks great, and he's not much taller than I am). Maybe with cowboy boots and a top hat as suggested above...
(Deleted comment)
David D. Levinedavidlevine on May 8th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)
This explains the popularity of the "bad boy" look with leather and studs...
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - davidlevine on May 8th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC) (Expand)